Researchers from UC Santa Barbara and the University of New Mexico studied the consequences of modernization on levels of physical activity in Tsimane men and women, and how their lifestyle contributes to low levels of heart disease.

UCSB anthropology professor Michael Gurven was the lead author of the study, which was published yesterday in the PLOS ONE journal, an international online publication for primary research. While researchers found that physical activity does play a role in heart health, they discovered that it is not the sole or even the most important factor in contributing to heart disease levels in a population.

By studying the Tsimane, a population indigenous to Bolivia’s Amazon basin, researchers noticed that although the Tsimane maintain a high level of physical activity, they cannot be considered a great outlier from many developed populations around the globe.

According to Gurven, initially it was assumed that the physical activity level (PAL) of the Tsimane was akin to completing a marathon every day, but after carefully analysis they found that to be untrue. Tsimane were not found to be more vigorously active than certain Americans with high activity levels, dedicating most of their day to moderate and light activity.

Over a day-long period of time, the team of researchers observed individual Tsimane men and women through spot observations, devices that measure acceleration called accelerometers, along with heart monitors to compile their data.

Another major finding of the study is that a clear and direct correlation between modernization and physical activity may not exist. The study detected that in the Tsimane population even the most modernized of villages still participated in physically active work. The researchers measured modernization by the village’s distance to a central town, levels of Spanish fluency and emphasis on formal education.

The study does make a distinction between the roles of men and women in Tsimane society, citing that since women usually did not take part in labor-intensive roles, they were more likely to be overweight than the Tsimane men.

 A version of this article appeared on page 6 of February 1st, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.